He reminded himself again how such things were bound to happen; how every change, however beneficial, must bring sorrow with it, and that to turn back on such work because a few women suffered was not worthy of a man. It was long before he could come to any decision, and the evening was drawing on, and the time for Vespers come and gone before he turned at last into the village to enquire for his servant.
The other men had seen nothing of Mr. Morris that day; he had not been back to the village.
A group or two stared awefully at the fine gentleman with the strong face and steady intolerant eyes, as he strode down the tiny street in his rich dress, swinging his long silver-headed cane. They had learnt who he was now, but were so overcome by seeing the King’s Commissioner that they forgot to salute him. As he turned the corner again he looked round once more, and there they were still watching him. A few women had come to the doors as well, and dropped their arched hands hastily and disappeared as he turned.
The convent seemed all as he had left it earlier in the afternoon, as he came in sight of it again. The high chapel roof rose clear against the reddening sky, with the bell framed in its turret distinct as if carved out of cardboard against the splendour.
He was admitted instantly when he rang on the bell, but the portress seemed to look at him with a strange air of expectancy, and stood looking after him as he went across the paved court to the door of the guest-house.
There was a murmur of voices in the parlour as he paused in the entry, and he wondered who was within, but as his foot rang out the sound ceased.
He opened the door and went in; and then stopped bewildered.
In the dim light that passed through the window stood his father and Mary Maxwell, his sister.
FATHER AND SON
None of the three spoke for a moment.
Then Mary drew her breath sharply as she saw Ralph’s face, for it had hardened during that moment into a kind of blind obstinacy which she had only seen once or twice in her life before.
As he stood there he seemed to stiffen into resistance. His eyelids drooped, and little lines showed themselves suddenly at either side of his thin mouth. His father saw it too, for the hand that he had lifted entreatingly sank again, and his voice was tremulous as he spoke.
“Ralph—Ralph, my son!” he said.
Still the man said nothing; but stood frozen, his face half-turned to the windows.
“Ralph, my son,” said the other again, “you know why we have come.”
“You have come to hinder my business.”
His voice was thin and metallic, as rigid as steel.
“We have come to hinder a great sin against God,” said Sir James.
Ralph opened his eyes wide with a sort of fury, and thrust his chin out.